Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Part #1: Fry drop - Copper River Basin Sockeye

Pilot Doug Glenn drops a load of salmon fry into Crosswinds lake from his crop duster airplane. About 10 million fry in total get dumped in the lake over a two day period. Mount Drum, of the Wrangell mountains in the distance.

My first encounter with the Copper River and fish was in 1982 when my uncle pulled a 65 pound King Salmon from its dirty gray waters. Since then, I've been utilizing the personal use fishery, dip netting red salmon (sockeye) nearly every year since. The river is fed with 156 distinct "stocks" of red salmon, says Gary Martinek the hatchery manager. One of these significant stocks is the Gulkana Hatchery, located near the mouth of Summit lake. In my eyes, its an untold success story, and few people seem to realize that this small hatchery, on average, contributes up to 60% of the red salmon catch throughout the basin. For this reason, I decided to take on a personal assignment documenting the hatchery, fish, and users of this wonderful Alaskan resource. It will likely be picked up by a magazine as a feature story.

Recently, that is late May, I went to the hatchery to photograph the transport of 10 million little salmon fry (they are about one inch long), which were loaded into a crop duster airplane and dropped into a nearby, non-road accessible lake. Through a little experimentation, the optimal drop distance seems to be about 200 feet. The process runs pretty smooth by observation, but they have spent many years perfecting it. Throughout the summer, I'll be documenting different phases of this subject, so check back for more images.

Hatchery employees gather the fry from the raceways

Crop duster ready for loading, the plane takes off down the Richardson highway.

Loading the tank with fry.

Salmon fry visible in the little window from the cockpit of the airplane

Crop duster plane tank filled with 450 gallons of water/fry


Unknown said...

Fascinating. This is a great self-assignment. I hope it gets picked up by a magazine. I'll be looking for the followups. Love your blog and following what you are up to. Aloha.

Patrick said...

It will prove interesting indeed. I hope to be in Cordova in the next few weeks for the gill net fishery. Keep me tuned to any photos you have to share on your photo site.

Anonymous said...

Hey Patrick,

Fascinating. I enjoyed this a lot, thanks. Good luck with the article.



Patrick said...

Carl, it is an engaging project with lots of relative interest to me. And, a story very much worth telling. I'll update it occasionally, so stay tuned. Perhaps I'll bump into you in the field one of these days.